Scientists have made a potentially life-saving discovery which could help prevent metastasis of breast cancer to the bone.
According to researchers, metastasis affects roughly 85% of breast cancer patients with advanced tumours.
The discovery is particularly important as once cancer spreads past this point, patients are "largely untreatable".
The study by researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research found that an enzyme is released by a cancerous tumour before it spreads to the bones.
They hope to block this enzyme, which is called LysYl Oxidase (LOX), and believe that doing so will prevent cancer from spreading.
Once the cancer spreads to the bones, "osteolytic bone lesions" form which is essentially where bone is destroyed, the study explains.
This can lead to "debilitating skeletal complications" and can increase the risk of death.
Researchers also discovered that treating mice with bisphosphonates could help treat patients with fragile bones and prevent cancer from spreading.
Co-author of the study, Dr Alison Gartland, from University of Sheffield said they were "really excited" by the findings.
"This is important progress in the fight against breast cancer metastasis and these findings could lead to new treatments to stop secondary breast tumours growing in the bone, increasing the chances of survival for thousands of patients," she added.
"The next step is to find out exactly how the tumour-secreted LOX interacts with bone cells to be able to develop new drugs to stop the formation of the bone lesions and cancer metastasis.
"This could have implications for how we treat other bone diseases too."
Katherine Woods, senior research communications manager at Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, told HuffPost UK Lifestyle: “By unveiling the role that the protein LOX is playing, these results open up a whole new avenue for research and treatments that could stop breast cancer spreading to the bone. The research also adds weight to the growing body of evidence supporting the role of bisphosphonates in stopping secondary breast cancer in its tracks.
“The reality of living with secondary breast cancer in the bone is a stark one, which leaves many women with bone pain and fractures that need extensive surgery just when they need to be making the most of the time they have left with friends and family.
“Secondary breast cancer kills 1,000 women each and every month in the UK alone and yet we still don’t know enough about how and why breast cancer spreads to stop it.
“Our newly-formed charity is determined that by 2050, no one will lose their life to breast cancer and we’ll do this by ramping up our research efforts, in this area in particular, doing everything possible to achieve that goal.”
The findings were published in the journal Nature.